Kindle Fire Update Offers Marginal Improvements, Weak Parental Controls
We just got through testing Amazon's update 6.2.1 for the Kindle Fire and overall it seems like it offers users some fairly decent improvements. The update promises "enhanced fluidity and performance," allows users to remove items from the carousel, and lets them lock Wi-Fi access, a crude parental control feature that helps prevent anyone from purchasing items on the tablet without the owner's permission.
Overall, we noticed some slight performance increases when navigating through the tablet's menus, and touch sensitivity has improved markedly, meaning you'll no longer have to repeatedly tap buttons to get a response. Still, we noticed a good amount of lag when flipping through magazines. The Silk browser still suffers from lag, with more image-heavy pages stuttering as we scrolled through them.
Wi-Fi Access Password
Before this 6.2.1 update, the Fire offered no parental control or security features. Amazon has attempted to address both issues with one solution by giving users the option of limiting Wi-Fi access. Under the Settings menu, you'll now find a Restrictions tab. From there you can set an administrative password that locks Wi-Fi access for the tablet. By enabling Password Protected Wi-Fi, users will have to enter a password everytime they want to enable the Fire's Wi-Fi radio.
So if you want to let your kids use the Fire, you can disable the Wi-Fi radio, keeping them off the web, and effectively cutting them off from Amazon's various media stores. The problem is that you'll have to disable the radio every time you want to block access to the web. And since there are no parental control options, its all or none. If you want to let your kids surf their favorite websites, you'll also have to give them access to the entire web.
We also would have liked to see some kind of parental control option that lets you lock down certain books, apps, or movies, to prevent children from viewing them. Even with Wi-Fi off, your kids can still get into any mature content you've stored on the device.
One of the more welcome features the update adds is the Fire is the ability to remove items from the carousel. As you'll recall, prior to the update, the last webpage a user visited was automatically displayed in the carousel. In order to remove it, you had to clear the browser's history.
But now, users can remove their most recently visited webpage from the carousel by long pressing the icon and selecting the Remove From Carousel option. The same steps can be used to remove books, apps, or other media from the carousel. It's a welcome addition that goes a long way in improving user privacy on the tablet. We just wish there was a way to prevent your most recently viewed content from appearing in the carousel in the first place.
Silk Still Slow
Before the Fire first shipped, Amazon promised that its Silk browser would offer better performance than most other tablet browsers by using Amazon's EC2 cloud server to consolidate files before sending them to the user. As more users accessed the web, Amazon's servers were supposed to cache the information and help improve page loading speeds. But in our initial tests, the browser performed significantly better with accelerated page loading turned off. And unfortunately, acceleration still doesn't help.
Although Amazon's update notes didn't mention enhancements to Silk, we decided to test the browser to see if there was any noticeable speed improvement over our previous tests. After testing People.com and Businessweek.com three times each with the accelerator on and three times each with the accelerator off, we found that there was no real difference between using the accelerator and not.
Without the accelerator Businessweek.com loaded in an average 2.5 seconds, while People.com loaded in an average 11.7 seconds. With the accelerator on, Businessweek.com loaded in 3.7 seconds, while People.com loaded in 11.9 seconds. In our previous tests, it took 13 seconds to load Businessweek.com and 8 seconds to load People.com with the accelerator off. When we turned the accelerator on previously, we saw page load speeds increase to 15 seconds for Businessweek.com and 10 seconds for People.com.
The differences between the load speeds aren't huge, but they certainly don't give users any incentive to use the web accelerator, which is especially disappointing considering how heavily Amazon touted the Silk's supposed speed benefit in the run-up to the Fire's release.
Overall, this update feels more like a stopgap measure to deal with the user complaints that the Fire's various shortcomings have brought on. That being said, this is still the best tablet you can get for $199. There is a lot to like about the Fire and its innovative design and operating system, and once it offers a faster browsing experience and real parental controls, it could be a contender for the top tablet crown.
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